The traditional logic on beggars, especially children, is that you can’t give them money. I know this. People who have spent years living in slums, running charities, dedicating their lives to the problem of poverty pretty much agree. And far be it from me to disparage their carefully honed opinions.
And yet I can’t some Arrested Development lyrics out of my head.
Here, have a dollar,
in fact no brotherman here, have two
Two dollars means a snack for me,
but it means a big deal to you
And it’s true. 10 rupees can mean chapatti and dahl for a hungry person, or it’s 1/3 of a soft drink for me. We are on probably a smaller budget than most foreigners in India—about 15-18 dollars a day, but I don’t mind not having a drink with dinner if it means someone else will have a marginally better day. My reasoning is that I won’t be here long enough to affect the system, one way or another, but I am here long enough make a tiny difference on an individual level.
And so, as we walked through the city (one day a full 30K ramble) I gave money to more people than I would normally. Even bought a shitty plastic necklace from a little girl for ten rupees. Dropped coins in legless mens’ tattered Styrofoam cups. Gave money to a Sadhu whose look of gratitude I might not ever forget. The most we gave away was 100 rupee note (2 bucks) that was just on the ground, to a pair of little girls. One smiled and one looked confused—they weren’t street children, but appreciated the money.
It was too far away from a solution to feel good, but it felt like something.
It was hot. 35 at least, and we’d been out in the heat all day. It had been one of the sweetest tourist days of my life, with visits to awe-inspiring (a cliché, but in this case true) temples and parks. We had also shot video for a movie that we’ve put together, using backgrounds of great places we’ve been.
Instead of walking back, or taking a rickshaw, we decided to check out the opulent new metro system. It took some time to track down, but when we went in it felt like Seoul or anywhere apart from India. Ultra-modern, clean, and air-conditioned.
I took a picture of it, which in retrospect was an ultimate blunder. My camera was on my belt, and could slide around so that it was behind me.
We stepped onto the train, and it was modern, shiny, cool. They had a real English lady announcing the stops, and she even said “mind the gap.” It was also quite crowded, but not much more than Seoul or London standards.
There was a young dude on my right, and Rachel slid to my left. Her hands sort of brushed me occasionally. My back was to the wall, right next to the doors. I felt Rach brush me a few times and I gave her a quizzical look. I almost asked her, but my guard was not where it needed to be and instead I just smiled at her.
The stop before mine, the guy to my right jumped off (along with half the train). Less than a minute later, it all clicked and I reached behind and found that my camera case had been unzipped and the camera was gone. Anyone who has been stolen from knows the sinking feeling of discovery, the feeling of violations and anger.
The stations have CCTV, of course, but I knew they wouldn’t care enough to check. So we got off at our stop and walked back to the previous one. The look on my face must have expressed my feelings pretty well—no touts bothered me at all. It’s sort of hard to look for one non-descript guy in a crowded Indian bazaar, but that’s what I did. I even visited a ‘mall’ area with second-hand electronics, figuring the fence might be easier to track than the thief.
Of course it was all fruitless. I’m bummed about the loss of photos and videos. I’m bummed that I won’t have my camera for the Taj Mahal and for Rajasthan. I’m bummed that I can’t trust people and will have to be more of a dick to all who approach me. I’m bummed for the bad karma. But mostly I’m bummed that Arrested Development could have been wrong about Mr Wendal. I thought those guys could do no wrong.